Hazardous Household Chemicals: Black Mold

Stachybotrys chartarum (Stachybotrys atra), or black mold, is a type of mold commonly found in areas with high moisture content. It grows in areas with low nitrogen and high cellulose content, such as: paper, fiberboard, dust, and gypsum board. There are several different kinds of mold, and though the black mold is not as common as others, it is not a rare form of mold.

Many people believe black mold is a toxic mold. Though the term “toxic mold” is thrown around loosely, it is inaccurate. Molds can produce toxins, but are not themselves poisonous. There is a small amount of mold everywhere, in the air and on various surfaces throughout homes and other buildings.

Health Risks of Black Mold
In 2004, the Institute of Medicine determined there is enough evidence to link indoor mold exposure with increased cough, wheeze, and other upper respiratory tract symptoms in otherwise healthy people. The evidence also suggests patients with asthma will likely experience more asthma related symptoms. People who have other conditions affecting their immune system have an increased risk for hypersensitivity pneumonitis – an inflammation of the lungs.

Healthy people may experience mild allergic reaction symptoms. Individuals affected by a chronic respiratory illness may have trouble breathing. Anyone with a suppressed immune system may have an increased risk of developing an infection from the mold exposure.

Mold exposure may not present any health problems, though those with allergies will likely be more sensitive to them. At this time, there is no test designed to prove mold as the direct cause of any illness.

How to Test for Black Mold
As all molds should be treated equally in terms of health risks and removal, it is not necessary to specifically test for black mold. Most infestations can be seen or smelled. Look in areas where moisture is common: sinks, showers/bathtubs, toilets, and kitchen. If you suspect you have a mold problem, you’ll need to take care of it.

Routine testing for mold spores is expensive, and not recommended by the CDC because an individual’s reaction varies greatly depending on the susceptibility and type of mold present. This means regular testing will not determine individual health risk. Standards for “acceptable” levels of mold in a home or business have not been established.

How to Repair/Restore Affected Areas
Remove mold from hard surfaces with commercial cleaning products. A soap and water solution will also help remove mold if no cleaning products are available. Many people opt to use a bleach solution to kill the mold spores and remove it from hard surfaces. The bleach solution should be mixed no more than one cup of bleach to one gallon of water.

When electing to clean the mold with a bleach and water solution:

  • Never add ammonia to the mixture, as bleach and ammonia produce toxic fumes. Do not add other household cleaners to the bleach mixture, as this may also produce toxic gas
  • Wear protective eye wear and non-porous gloves to keep the bleach away from skin
  • Open doors and windows in the area to keep it well ventilated.

If mold growth is present on absorbent or porous materials such as drywall or carpet, the best thing to do is to replace the material completely. If for any reason they cannot be replaced right away, getting them dry and eliminating the source of the mold growth is of utmost importance.

Simply cleaning the mold off of hard surfaces and replacing other materials is not enough to eradicate the problem. Where there’s mold, there’s a constant source of moisture, and without getting rid of where the water is coming from, the mold will continue to grow. Cleaning the hard surfaces will get rid of the appearance, but it won’t get rid of the mold for good.

If your mold problem is too large for you to tackle by yourself, there are professional mold remediation services that can help you.

Mold Prevention Tips
Though mold will not always be avoided, there are some things people can do to prevent it including:

  • Monitor areas prone to water leaks, as a constant source of water is required for mold spores to grow and multiply.
  • Do not carpet the bathroom.
  • Keep indoor humidity between 40% and 60%, using air conditioners and dehumidifiers where and when necessary.
  • Install fans in the kitchen and bathroom to ensure there is adequate ventilation in those areas.
  • Clean the bathroom with products designed to kill mold.
  • Immediately take steps to clean and dry flooded areas.

While mold is unpleasant and should not be ignored, it is not generally a life threatening issue unless there is a severe allergic reaction. Those who are at higher risk to develop health issues because of mold exposure should take extra precaution against mold and seek medical attention when necessary.

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